Supertouring’s F1 Connections – Part 1
It is fair to say that during the Super Touring era, there were several F1 stars who tested themselves against the best of the tin top racers, with one even combining a season of touring cars alongside drives in F1. There were also drivers who raced in the BTCC on their way up the ladder to Formula 1. Today, We look back at those who raced in both categories during the famous Super Touring era of the BTCC.
Coulthard is well known for his stint with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull Racing in Formula 1, but less is known about his brief links with the BTCC. In 1990, the young Scotsman was signed by Vauxhall to drive a second Cavalier alongside reigning champion, John Cleland. He made his debut at Brands Hatch, finishing 13th, before heading to Spa to compete in a Formula Vauxhall race. At that meeting in Spa, Coulthard broke his leg in an accident, which stopped him racing the rest of the season, Vauxhall replacing him with Bob Berridge, Chris Hodgetts and Markus Oestreich for the remainder of the season.
Coulthard was also linked with a BTCC drive in 1994, when Mazda linked up with Team Dynamics and Roger Dowson’s BTCC squads for their manufacturer BTCC effort. The team were trying to link up a big sponsorship deal with Noel Edmunds’ IMG group, who were keen to put Coulthard in the car. Mazda were against this and instead opted for David Leslie.
Coulthard would soon find himself replacing Ayrton Senna at Williams, after the tragic death of the Brazilian in the San Marino Grand Prix. His ties with Williams meant that he would sample a BTCC Laguna on two occasions, as Williams also ran the works Renault programme in the BTCC.
We caught up with David Coulthard at Autosport International in January, where he discussed his experiences of Super Touring.
“I only actually ever raced in one BTCC meeting at Brands Hatch in 1990. It was in the Vauxhall Cavalier alongside John Cleland. I was actually signed to do a couple of races, but after the first meeting, I went to race at Spa in Formula Vauxhall.
Thankfully, I broke my leg in an accident there, so I didn’t have to race in the Cavalier again! The car was awful, I wasn’t used to front wheel drive and it was just alien to me! I just couldn’t get my head around it – I wanted to throw up!”
“There were talks of a Mazda deal in 1994, with Noel Edumunds backing, but I don’t think I was ever a serious candidtate, as far as I am concerned, I was nowhere near it (the deal) at all as far as I was aware. I think people were talking to Mazda on my behalf, but I was with Williams as test driver and I was still very much focussed on Formula 1 and a single seater career.”
In 1995, I do remember doing a swap day with the Williams Touring Car Engineering boys. Alain Menu got to drive my Grand Prix car, and I drove the Laguna Super Tourer. I remember the seating position being weird, almost felt like my head was well in front of my arse! I recall that it was very hot in the car. As nice as it was, it was still front wheel drive, which is very tricky to get your head around – it is a totally unique driving style! It was certainly far more refined than that Cavalier though!”
After 83 Grands Prix, mainly with Tyrrell, Jonathan Palmer moved to the Prodrive BMW squad in the BTCC for the 1991 season. With a plum works drive, much was expected of Palmer, however, he struggled to match the hype and claimed only 2 podium positions, finishing 7th in the final standings. The most memorable moment of Palmer’s only full BTCC season would be his infamous crash with independent driver Nettan Lindgren. After an incident, she made it quite clear what she thought of Jonathan – to the amusement of many.
Julian started 7 Grands Prix for Tyrell and Lotus, scoring his only career point at Imola in 1991, but lost his drive after the following race at Monaco. By the end of 1991, Julian found himself at Nissan, driving for the works BTCC team. An uncompetitive car, meant there was little in the way of results and Julian moved and spent the rest of his BTCC career with Toyota, debuting for the team half way through the 1992 season. His best season was 1993, where he took his first BTCC win and finished 5th in the standings. His most memorable moment in his touring car career was also in 1993, where he tipped his team-mate Will Hoy onto his roof, whilst leading a 1-2 at the F1 support race meeting. His final season was in 1995, when Toyota withdrew from the series.
After 36 starts in Formula 1, Danner moved to the DTM and was a regular in the series. In 1991, he was called up by the Prodrive-run BMW team in the BTCC for the 4th meeting of the season at Thruxton, filling in for Steve Soper. Danner impressed in his only BTCC race, finishing 5th.
“Smokin’ Jo”, named after his habit of sneaking off for a ‘crafty fag’ whenever possible, made his BTCC debut for BMW in 1993, four years after failing to qualify in 7 Grands Prix for AGS in Formula 1. With BMW building the car to beat, Jo and team mate Steve Soper were the men at the front of the grid at the start of the season and Winkelhock’s 5 wins and several other podium positions ensured he won the title in his debut BTCC season, beating team mate Soper by 13 points.
He returned in 1994, but Alfa Romeo’s domination – especially in the first half of the season, meant he was never a serious title contender. In the second half of the season, Winkelhock won 4 races as the BMW developed into a challenger again once aerodynamic regulations had been changed to allow others to match the Alfa Romeo’s controversial wings.
He headed to the German championship in 1995, winning that at his first attempt, before returning to the BTCC in 1996, spearheading the BMW attack alongside Roberto Ravaglia. The BMW was fast, but not consistently enough to put up a true championship fight. 4 wins and 3 other podium finishes meant a 5th place finish in his final BTCC season, just one point and one place ahead of his team mate.
Eric van de Poele
After starting 5 Grands Prix for Modena, Brabham and Fondmetal and never troubling the front runners, van de Poele found himself at Nissan for the start of the 1994 BTCC season. The Nissan wasn’t particularly competitive that season, but neither was Eric. One points scoring position aside, he struggled at the low end of the grid and was replaced by Tiff Needell for the second half of the season. Eric scored 2 points in the BTCC, for a 9th place finish at Snetterton.
Lammers entered 41 Grands Prix between 1979 and 1992, failing to score a single point as he battled with uncompetitive cars. In 1982, it seemed his F1 career was over, with no drive offered to him, he turned his attention to sports cars. In 1992, however, Lammers made a two-race comeback in Formula One for March. These races marked his first Formula One appearance since 1982, which is the longest gap between successive Grands Prix in the history of Formula One. He was signed for the team in 1993, but the team went bankrupt before the season started.
In 1994, Lammers was the star driver lined up to lead the ambitious touring car programme by Volvo. The star of the season was the car, though as the Volvo 850 Estate became one of the most iconic cars in the history of the championship.
Throughout the season, Lammers’ team mate Rickard Rydell got more out of the package than Lammers, outscoring him 27 points to 18. Lammers’ was replaced for the 1995 BTCC season by Tim Harvey.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – coming soon!
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